Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Nobody Puts Baby in the Corner

My husband and I were flipping through channels the other night trying to find a movie to watch, which seems like it should be an easy feat when you have most of the movie channels. But, as it turns out, I don't really care to see all the movies I was dying to see but didn’t make it to when they were in the theater- so it felt like there was nothing to watch.

So, we’re flipping and flipping and flipping, and then finally my husband exclaims, “Let’s watch this one with Stiffler!”

Now, the movie was not American Pie in which Seann William Scott does play Stiffler; it was Mr. Woodcock. But, I’m with my husband on that one: Seann William Scott could become president of the United States and he would still be Stiffler to me.

So, what I’m thinking is that a similar thing happened with the colon. Maybe one time it gave this memorable performance of introducing a list of items, and then from that time forward, whenever anyone sees the colon they say, “Oh, that’s the punctuation mark that comes before a list.”
And they are not completely wrong because a colon can come before a list, but that’s really pigeon-holing the colon. That's like telling MacGyver that the only use for a paper clip is to attach papers, and it's like telling the papers that they always need to be attached with a paper clip.

What I mean is there are two problems with the concept that a colon introduces lists:

1. It doesn’t only introduce lists
2. It doesn’t introduce all lists

So, what does the colon do? It is used after an independent clause (which is basically a complete sentence) to call attention to words that follow it. So, a colon essentially says, "Here it comes!”

So, for example,

I saw the coolest thing on TV yesterday: this guy with a mullet saved his friend's life with a shoelace and a paper clip.

Do you see how that works? I saw the coolest thing on TV yesterday is a complete sentence that insinuates that I will be telling you what the cool thing is. The colon then screams, "It's coming!" And, then following the colon, I tell you what it is.

Here's an example of when a colon preceded a list:

When we go to the store, I need to buy a few things: some duct tape, a Swiss Army knife, and a pack of gum.

I can use the colon before that list only because When we go to the store, I need to buy a few things is a complete sentence that announces something. So, if there's not a complete sentence before the list, we don't get to use a colon.

Incorrect: I need to buy some: duct tape, a Swiss Army knife, and a pack of gum.

Correct: I need to buy some duct tape, a Swiss Army knife, and a pack of gum.

Well, I can't help but get emotional when I think of how wonderful it is that we have expanded our limited view of the colon. It reminds me of how in Dirty Dancing Johnny Castle could see the beyond the limited view everyone else had of Baby.

Maybe now the colon can have the time of its life too!


keppi baranick said...

I could cry I'm so happy for the colon, and that your my girl.

pal shazar said...

so right. i will take note.

William said...

I stayed at a hotel Colon in Tijuana, once. It was as bad as you are imagining. What I really wanted to ask was, what do you think would happen if McGiver met McGruber?

PINNER said...

This is some helpful information: I recently wrote a paper for my English class and the only way I could find to use that little guy was when I stated the time.

Michale Moore

Zuly Landin said...

I don't ever use colons in my papers, I think they look awkward since I'm not use to them, but now that I actually know when I can use them, maybe I will use it next time.

smummert82 said...

This helps so much! just about all my teachers have said to only use it when dealing with lists but this makes much more sense to me.

Craig said...

Long-time reader, first time commenter. I have two questions on the colon.

(1) After the colon, is it one space before the first letter, or two? I think one but my partner thinks two.

(2) Is the first letter after the colon capitalized?

Thanks for your help.

Missed Periods said...

Hi Craig,

To answer your questions:

1) You are correct, but your partner would have been correct in the past. I think it used to be customary to put two spaces, but now it's one.

2)According to Diane Hacker (the grammar guru), either capitalized or lowercase after the colon is correct.

Have a nice weekend.

Adrian said...

I get it now. Thank you!

Alfred said...

I love the way you use artists and include humorous lines to grab our attention. I also get the use of a colon.

thuytarded said...

I'm just making sure here to use colons the first part needs to be a complete sentence
as for semi-colons, the two sentences must be a complete thought?

Josiah said...

I don't think I've ever used the colon correctly in a sentence: thank you for showing me how. Was that ok?

Jessica said...

This is very helpful and I hope to retain it for the next few weeks: even though I have a horrible memory. :( I am still extremely helpful for the GREAT explanation!